Friday, April 17, 2015

The Punisher, Volume 1: Black and White by Nathan Edmondson (Text), Mitch Gerads (Illustrations)

The Punisher, Vol. 1: Black and WhiteThe Punisher, Vol. 1: Black and White by Nathan Edmondson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was leery about this arc of The Punisher changing authors and storylines, but I feel that it was pretty successful in keeping the tone I liked with the Rucka run, without it being an exact copy.  I didn't veer into the realm of ultra-violence either (what I was really nervous about).  Edmondson continues to write Castle as a driven man who isn't afraid of using violence, but with his own rigid code of morality. I did miss Rachel Cole-Alves though.

Castle has set his operations up on the West Coast, and targeted a series of violent gangs who have declared a war against the city of Los Angeles.  Castle adopts a wounded coyote (which was a nice touch). He also has a set of allies who help him out (in the ways he needs it).  There are a few fun cameos I really appreciated. They don't step outside of the tone of the series, so that's good.

The artwork is well-done, different from the last run, but I still enjoyed it.  They capture the grim nature of Castle and convey his dead seriousness about his vocation.  I have to say I kind of have a soft spot for the Punisher that has been restored after the travesty of  the movie Punisher: War Zone.

I have to say that I am satisfied and will keep reading the new Punisher series. 

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Samurai Game by Christine Feehan

Samurai Game (Ghostwalkers #10)Samurai Game by Christine Feehan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

2nd Reread Completed in April 2015. I wanted to revisit the GhostWalkers before I read Viper Game. And let's face it, I start get withdrawal pains when I spend too long away from the GhostWalkers. I'm obsessed.

My thoughts this time around:

I just plain love this book. I mean, it's nothing special amongst the other books, but I really felt the love between Azami and Sam. I think even though they only knew each other for a short period, and they couldn't have been paired on both sides, it was just a synergy between them that made my true romantic heart feel warm and fuzzy. They make such a good pair, and Sam happened to put into words, they just fit together. Their relationship was deeply romantic and appealingly sensual. Those of us who have followed Team One's GWs, I don't think they could be dissatisfied at seeing Sam get his woman.

I love them just as much as individuals. Sam is so fantastic. He's such a good guy. Smart as a whip, lethal as a ninja and sweet as a puppy. That is my kind of combination. This is one of those heroes that I often wish "Why can't I have a guy like that?" It doesn't happen much. I usually view romance as escapism, and it's not wish fulfillment for me, if I'm honest. More than anything, I'm more in love with love. But, yeah, Sam is 100% on my personal compatibility scale. I think out of all the GhostWalkers, he's probably the one I feel like I would be a good match with in real life. But enough of that!

Azami, I have a serious girl crush on her. She's freaking lethal, but elegant and demure. She's highly intelligent, but has no desire to showboat about it. And she's a serious survivor. Out of all the crap that Whitney did in his experimentation with the GhostWalkers, he committed the most atrocities to her. But it didn't break her, she was reborn as a samurai. There is something about a woman warrior that I just love. While I don't have a tendency towards being a warrior in real life, I truly love that aspect of a woman. Yes, I admit I have a secret desire to be a ninja that never went away. Azami's secret assaults on Whitneys organization were long in coming. He thinks she's thrown away and probably dead, but she's the real ghost who is going to give him his reckoning.

I do believe this book is slightly more action-focused than the previous book. While Feehan goes in detail with some of the operational information, I liked that. I'm sort of geeky about special ops stuff.

I could probably rave more, but I don't want to repeat myself over what I said on my last read. I can say that it definitely stands up to a reread. Sadly, it makes me want to start the series all over again, but I lack the time for it. :)

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

The Wells Bequest (The Grimm Legacy, #2)The Wells Bequest by Polly Shulman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a fun book for tweens that I appreciated, although I'm much older than that age. :) Shulman moves from fairy tales The Grimm Legacy to science fiction novels with this book, but it still takes place in the New York Circulating Material Repository. Leo is the least scientifically-gifted in a family full of science geniuses. But he gets the opportunity to explore science in a way that his siblings never had. He'll find out for himself that time machines are real, among other really cool devices.

I thought this was pretty cute. I liked Leo's characterization. He was adorable with and his floppy black curl on his forehead. His crush on Jaya was very cute. Jaya seemed very mature for her age, which was interesting. I like that it's no big deal that he's Russian American and she's Indian American (not Native but the country). The use of various science fiction novels in the story was a fun touch. I mean, that would rock to be able to use The Time Machine and to meet Nicola Tesla.

Also, the use of Nicola Tesla was an interesting touch. I learned some new things about his conflict-ridden relationship with Thomas Edison and about Lewis Latimer, who was a black man whose work with electricity went a long way towards Edison inventing the light bulb. He actually drafted the patent for the telephone with Alexander Graham Bell before his work with Edison.

I'm always a fan of metafiction, and I liked that idea that devices from classic science fiction novels really worked in this book. Don't expect technical explanations that would stand up under rigorous scientific scrutiny. It's a major suspend disbelief in some aspects, but that's what fiction is often about.

I only gave this three stars because I felt like some parts of the story was lightweight. I would have preferred a little more story development in some areas. I think the ending wraps up a little too neatly. But I still enjoyed listening to this, narrated by the excellent Johnny Heller.

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Runner by Patrick Lee

Runner (Sam Dryden, #1)Runner by Patrick Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Runner was raved about by one of my Goodreads friends, so I picked it up from the library. This story is about a man who happens to be in the best place at the right time, and makes the decision to help a girl that changes his whole life.

Sam Dryden has this irresistible compulsion to go running at night, in a certain area. He's been drifting after his personal loss, and believes this is due to his restlessness, and perhaps an existential crisis. He meets a girl who begs him to save her life from her pursuers and makes a split decision to do exactly that. It's fortunate that he's not just a typical guy. He's highly trained in black ops work, and equipped with all the assets needed to keep Rachel alive. It gets more interesting from there. Because Rachel isn't your typical twelve-year-old. Not by a long stretch.

This novel has some really cool ideas. It's like the X-Files episode of Pusher with some heavy duty action thrown in. Rachel's psychic abilities are seriously scary! Sam is a bad*ss. Great combination. It reminded me favorably of one of my favorites series, The GhostWalkers (minus the romance and with a few different aspects).

The things I loved about this book was the bond between Rachel and Sam. Sam assumes a fatherly role, with a little bit of friend thrown in. Rachel definitely needs a parental figure who is honorable and willing to make enormous sacrifices for her, considering her past. One might at first take it for granted that Sam would go so far to defend a young girl. The reveal could have compromised my perception of Sam as a really good guy who acts as Good Samaritan. I thought at first it would, but in the end, I was okay with it. I definitely believe that things happen in our lives for specific reasons, and they were meant to come together, no matter how it happened.

I loved the action elements. I also liked that the story is far from predictable. You don't always know right away who exactly is the big bad. There are a few characters who are doing some nasty things, so it's a coin flip at some points. The story flips things around. All you know is that Sam is a good guy and the right guy to be the bodyguard to Rachel. Things get twisty in that we're dealing with people who can literally get anyone to do whatever they want. You wonder at what point are the characters doing something of their free will. I have some huge issues with control, and that's a very scary thought that someone could control me and make me do something I would never do otherwise. I think Lee understands how truly frightening that is.

Runner is probably equally suspense and action, with some paranormal/science fiction thrown in. It's a really cool premise. It looks like this will be a series, so I wonder what will happen in the next book. I do want to read more of this series and see where the author goes next with the characters he created in this book.

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Asteroid Outpost by John Bowers

Asteroid OutpostAsteroid Outpost by John Bowers
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This is a hard book for me to rate. It's been a while since I read it, but I still haven't changed my mind about what I thought I should rate it (I thought I'd be in between and I still feel that way). I will say that it was really quite satisfying for an impulse buy.

There is something that just works about space westerns. Even if Fox did cancel Firefly because they were crazy, I knew that show was magic in the first five minutes. I mean, isn't space the final frontier? Well, Bowers captures all the wildness, the corruption and the lawlessness of space. And he puts a newbie Marshal (who was once a war hero) in a situation where his determination to see justice done might just get him killed.

Overall, this was a well-written book. I do feel that Bowers captured a really gritty feel and showed how deeply corrupt things were on Ceres and in the mining asteroid belts. It did remind me of how things were in the Real Old West. While Nick is definitely a White Hat, he has no issues with getting his hands bloody.

Readers who are sensitive to topics of sexual violence will definitely want to be careful with this book. There were aspects that made me absolutely livid, because that is a really sensitive topic with me. Sometimes I even had a anti-male rage going on, but Nick was just as hot about what was happening, so it does prove that not all men are like that. Yeah, what the Farringtons were doing to women in this book (and allowing to be done) was seriously dark. It made it hard to keep reading at times. I listened to this on my Kindle Text-to-Speech and it was a very visceral thing to hear about the abuses that were taking place at the Farrington Lockup. I'm not a violent person, generally, but this book made me feel murderous.

Overall, Nick was a very likable character that I respected. I totally felt his strong need for justice. I'm wired that way as well. However, I was conflicted about Nick's love life. I felt like his aversion to commitment was more of a throwaway to fit into the concept of him as a roaming marshal. It made me feel he was a bit skeevy, to be honest. At least he showed integrity in many other ways (and I can't fault that he was honest with the women he was involved with). I think it's deeply icky for character to bed hop, so I definitely could have done without that.

I feel that the secondary characters could have been a bit more developed. Misery was barely three-dimensional. Monica moreso. I loved that they were both black women. :) I did like David quite a bit. He seemed like one of the more fleshed out secondary characters, strangely enough.

I do think Bowers is working out his issues with religion in his fiction. He seems very cynical about organized religion, but I don't get that he's anti-God or anti-people of faith, but just not a big fan of some of the behaviors that occur in the religious community. I can respect that a writer uses their fiction to work out their issues, as long as they don't obviously get out their soapbox, and he didn't do that. So we're cool. I agree that the minister was pretty ridiculous to take his beautiful, young virginal daughters into a mining community with the worst of the worst and not expect something like that to happen. It's not that I don't believe in God's protection (I definitely do), but he didn't even rely on that, but just this arrogant belief that he had been called there to minister to the Lost (and he could save all the souls). So, yes, I was feeling Nick when he read the minister the riot act.

We read this for the Action/Adventure Aficionados group and I felt the action was definitely high caliber. Nick isn't afraid to dive into the fray, and the suspense was killer. I mean these folks were evil, and there are few things more disturbing to me than corrupt law enforcement.

I can't quite convince myself that this is a four star book. It's hovering, so I'd have to go with 3.5 stars. One of my pet peeves is abrupt endings and when tension dissipates too quickly, and I thought that was an issue. And honestly, I think a lot worse things should have happened to the bad guys, based on how horrific their behavior was.

I will probably continue this series, but I am not feeling Nick's bed-hopping, and I hope that isn't a pervasive trend in this series.

I think fans of Firefly and the movie Serenity and also of the show Ripper Street (not Western but about the law in London in a very rough area full of corruption) would like this book. But be warned, it's not for the faint of heart!

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The Shadows by JR Ward

The Shadows (Black Dagger Brotherhood, #13)The Shadows by J.R. Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, this is my review of the latest Ward book. I love this time of year, and the traditions that come alone with it as a long-time JR Ward fan. It's a big part of why I enjoy this series so much.

Sorry, but this is a really long review. I had a lot to say!

Possible Spoiler Disclaimer: I will warn readers that while I really tried not to use overt spoilers, you will see that there is an emotional shock that comes in this book, but I don’t reveal exactly what it was. Readers beware!

The Shadows is the telling of the story of the two s’Hisbe brothers who have become unofficial members of the Brotherhood’s growing family. Trez is running away from his destiny, written in the stars, as the future mate of the Princess of the s’Hisbe. He’s done everything he could to disqualify himself, but the time is growing short and he can run no longer. iAm has stood in the gap for his brother for many years, trying to keep his brother from going over the edge of oblivion to the exclusion of having his own life. But the time is coming when he won’t be able to save his brother. Trez is stone cold in love with the Chosen, Selena, but for many reasons, a happy ending doesn’t seem to be written in their destinies. Will iAm ever get the chance to build his own life, and to make decisions that aren’t dictated by his sacrificial love for his brother?
With a storyline that like, you know there’s going to be major drama.

Drama is JR Ward’s calling card. When I read one of her books, I automatically expect it. It’s hard, at the same time, waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it often does, very hard. I deliberately took my time reading this, preparing myself for the emotional blows sure to come. Not at all sure that there would be a happy end by the last page. I know a lot of people weren’t happy with this book, and I was prepared that I might not be, or that I might like it and find myself an outlier in saying why I liked it. So, it was emotionally stressful for me to read it. Another reason to take my time.

Some have argued that Ward has moved away from her initial writing of romance. I’m not sure I agree. Even in her earlier book, there was always a sense that not everything was settled, and while there were committed and happily mated couples, troubles could be lurking around the corner. Yes, the books were shorter and they focused more on the romance, but there was always something more, and plenty of drama. As the series has progress, the books have expanded, and with them, the storylines. And yes, the drama quotient. At times, it’s wearying how the storylines get dragged out and she introduces yet another set of new characters instead of giving more resolution on current storylines. This book was not different in that regard. And there were parts of this book that ripped my guts out and gave me a headache that was just a shade below a migraine. I wanted to slap one particular character super-duper silly. And I wanted to shake another one. I wanted to rail at the capriciousness of life, and ask the whys. But at the same time, I was satisfied at the end of the story. Hence my rating.

My opinion won’t be popular on this book amongst many of my friends. Largely, I really enjoyed this book. While there were some parts that were terribly sad and that made me sob like a big old baby, I felt that JR Ward delivered the quality of storytelling I appreciate about her writing. I’m not the one to tell you if she messed up specific details. I love this books a lot, but I don’t always remember which hand of Vishous glows or which eye of Qhuinn’s is blue versus green. To me, I don’t find that terribly important. I do care about the stories and the emotional journey. I don’t care if she rewrites some aspects of the storyline, because that’s to be expected in a long-running series. As an artist, one’s creation will evolve, and Ward views these people as real, probably as real as they seem to me, but probably even more real. And real people do change.

I will say this as well, I believe in eternal life. I believe that life doesn’t end on this plane. I believe that death is an enemy in that it steals love ones away from their beloveds, hopefully not forever, but sometimes it is forever. Our mortal bodies fail us and we leave this life and go to another place. I’m a Christian, so I believe that Heaven and Hell are real. For the Brothers, it’s the Fade. But I think the pain is the same, knowing that you won’t see a beloved again in this life. And when one is dying, it’s facing one’s mortality, and the question of whether what you’ve believed that whole time was real or not.

My two cats (that I had for pretty much their whole, long lives) died this past fall, and it broke my heart to pieces. They were older and I should have been prepared. I work in animal medicine, and I lost my dad about ten years ago, so death is not new to me. But it still wrenched my soul to lose them. It’s funny what people say and don’t say to you when you lose someone. I had people say some things that were quite ugly even though they didn’t mean it that way, and that didn’t help my emotional healing. I also had people who ministered to me in my grief, and understood exactly how I felt. They can’t know how much they helped me, but I say a prayer of thanks that God put them in my path at the right time.

I think this book touched me because I saw one of the characters go on that journey. The stages of grief were so tangible to me because of my recent loss (and quite honestly, I also lost a church friend recently, so I was dealing with that as well). I could feel what it was like for this character and the pain of losing a person, but also the fact that they could not ever have regrets about having loved that person, for however short that time was. It’s real for me. I don’t know, but I’m thinking that Ward went through a loss recently, and she wrote this from her heart. I connected with that, and I can see why she didn’t change the ending to a “happy, joy, joy” one that would be expected. Sometimes, that’s not the way life works. Sometimes, you lose people and you have to get out of bed the next day. You have to attend to the ceremonies that come along with the loss and keep one foot in front of the other until you can walk without falling. Sometimes you have to be strong so you can be strong for another person who needs that strength, and put your own needs aside. That was all so real to me, and very well-written.

Others may not like how that was done. I respect that. While it sucked that this person died, it was also valuable in the terms of the story. I can’t fault Ward for that decision. I’ve seen her make others in her stories that I was more angry about. I think she handled the situation with grace, even in the most ugly and emotionally wrenching parts. I think she knows that people are going to be angry with her, and she owns it. I respect her for that.
Speaking of things that made me angry, Xcor was a real tool in this book. I had started seeing more potential for him as a future hero in the past few books, but now I’m just annoyed at him and I question his value as a future love interest for a certain person. I really disliked what he did, for numerous reasons. Those who know my tastes can probably pinpoint why, and can understand why I wanted to bitchslap him. It’s not that I don’t understand his character or the whys but it was a jerk move. At some point you have to stop being a whiny baby and say no to the past and declare a better future. I hold out hope that he’ll get a clue, but he’ll need to get a cleansing deep inside and outside before everything will be okay with me.

I continue to like Layla’s character. She’s really growing as a three-dimensional character in her own right. I wasn’t happy about that storyline with Qhuinn at first, but now I’m okay with it. I think it’s an interesting dynamic, and I want to see where things lead with her and her ancillary relationship with Qhuinn and Blay. I just want her to have a Hellren who is worthy of her. She deserves it! I hope the male she’s in love with gets his head out of his rear end sometime soon.

One of the things I absolutely loved about this book was the relationship between iAm and Trez, and how things turned around, and the one who always made sacrifices got to be the one who was put first in a crucial way. iAm is a really classy guy, a worthy male, and while Trez did have some jerk moments in the past few books, I really liked him in this book and felt for him. He proves to be a very worthy male (although I don’t agree with his view of prostitution being okay as long as the women get the lion’s share of their earnings). Yes, they don’t consider themselves black or African American, but I liked that they do represent people of color in this book so well. I also found the s’Hisbe culture fascinating. In some ways, it’s not super well-defined, but it’s intriguing to me. An interesting compare and contrast to the Vampire and Sympath cultures. ‘s’Ex is some kind of dude. On the real! He has swagger like my beloved Rehvenge, and that is a very nice comparision from a reader who is stone cold in love with Rehv! I hope we see more of him. I like one of the new characters introduced very much, which I cannot reveal as a spoiler. Thumbs up for her. That was super-sweet too what happens with her and another character.

A few things I was indifferent about as well. I am indifferent about the Lesser storyline. It doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. We’ll see what happens in the next book. I can’t make up my mind how I feel about Assail. I hate drug abuse/activity, so he’s got a major strike against him. At the same time, I do appreciate the pragmatism of his character. I think he truly is amoral, and he sticks true to that. I’m not sure if he’ll turn out to be an antihero or a full on villain. I have this sick appreciation for a good antihero, I freely admit.

I feel like the Band of Brothers storyline was underrepresented in this book, but I think Ward is saving it for the next book and chose to focus on other aspects. It will be interesting to see what happens between Xcor and Throe (and I’m glad that Wrath ain’t nobody’s fool when it comes to that situation). I wish she’d spent more time on the BoB instead of developing the new storyline with Paradise. I don’t hate her, but I can’t say I really care that much about her right now. Having said that, I’ll definitely be reading the spinoff series, even though I think it’s Ward’s bid for the New Adult niche (and I’m not interested in that genre).

So, yes, I think I could go on about this book, but I’ve already written such a long review. It won’t change anything. I’m pretty set on how I rated the book. I own it. I liked this book a whole lot. I enjoy Ward’s writing. I love the elegance of the old races she writes about, juxtaposed to the gritty modern world. I even like the thug slang and urban ways of the Brothers (as odd as some find it). I know a lot of folks hate that, but I feel that it’s characteristic of her writing, and I smile every year when I get to hang out with the Brothers and their ever-growing circle of acquaintances. I think that Ward really loves writing about these characters and that joy is infectious to me as a reader. I wish that some of my favorites were more front and center, but most of them had their day in the sun and it’s time to let someone else take the center focus. I will say it was nice to see more of Rhage and Mary in this book.

I guess I’m always going to enjoy Ward’s book for what they are. I don’t expect her to be a perfect writer. She has her quirks like any other artist, but I think she’s a darn good writer, and I love this world she’s created, even more with each book. I added The Shadows to my BDB hardcover shelf with a feeling of proprietary pride. Enough Said!

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landry

Skulduggery Pleasant (Skulduggery Pleasant, #1)Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have had the print book on my bookshelf for years, but I decided to try the audiobook from my library as this looked like it would be fun to listen to. Turns out I was right. This was a lot of fun. The narrator was great. He had a delicious Irish accent, although he modified it to suit other characters. I liked his sort of flat tone he used for Skulduggery, making him sound kind of ironic and mysterious, like there was a lot going on under the surface.

At first, it's a bit odd. There's some weird music between interludes, followed by a low male voice saying, "Yeah!" I thought that was pretty weird and random, but it grew on me, fast. I had no expectations, so it was all novel for me. I expected the story to be campy, but it turns out to be pretty dark.

Now the characters.

Skulduggery is a fun and likable character. But he's also credibly tough. He's a sorcerer who happened to lose his body in an epic battle. I wondered how the author would get me to buy into a story where the main character is just a skeleton. It took about ten minutes. When I heard the explanation, I was like, "Okay then." At some points, I'm skeptical that he's so blase about 12-year -old Stephanie going along with him on some very dangerous adventures. But I have to remind myself that the target audience is 12-year-olds. Skulduggery is a chill dude. It's funny how sanguine he is about Stephanie's bossing him around and threatening to hit him. Maybe he enjoys it because he's lonely. He was great friends with her uncle, so he might have developed a fondness for her via his friend. At any rate, he was very tolerant to Stephanie and he clearly took it very seriously to protect her, even if he did take her along on his dangerous missions. Knowing Stephanie, she probably would have followed him. Skulduggery is a good guy. You would think he'd be menacing, with the whole skeletal appearance, but he's an all around good guy, although he does have enough of a dark edge to be appealing and authentic. The interview with him at the end was awesome. Just the right touch for the audiobook.

Stephanie is in some ways very much a girl of her age. Tween and teenage girls have attitude for days. Yes, it's a bit of a generalization, but there is a lot of truth in it. She also had a very vivid inner life that I recognized in myself. Not that I would have wanted to do every thing she does (okay, maybe some of it). She's pretty saucy, if I'm honest. It made me laugh and part of thought I'd get the taste slapped out of my mouth if I had talked to an adult that way when I was a kid. All in all, she's a well-drawn character, with the sass, bravery, sense of honor and a great sense of humor that should appeal to most readers.

Together, they make quite a team. I enjoyed their buddy movie banter. Even if Stephanie could be kind of rude to Skulduggery. I loved it when he told her she was "very annoying."

The secondary characters are good, all making sense to the story. I liked the interactions between Stephanie and her clueless parents. They were cute. In a way, it was pretty obvious that Stephanie pretty much got away with a lot more than you'd expect for her age with them.

I like that the tone of this book stays intense but with some good humor. I like that while Landry doesn't take himself too seriously, he shows respect for the intellect of his young readers. In other words, he doesn't make the story too silly or ridiculous. We are dealing with a very evil set of villains with uber-nefarious purposes. Some aspects were fairly creepy, and it reminded me a little of Simon R. Green's Nightside books in a good way. China Sorrow especially definitely made me think of a Nightside character. Don't get me wrong. I don't think this was derivative at all. It feels novel and unique amongst the many urban fantasy stories I've read or encountered. It has a lot of good action, and Skulduggery can fight, with his fists, with his trusty sidearm, and with his elemental magic. Speaking of, the magic elements were well done. They had a unique feel. I like the explanation about the different types of magic users. I think this series would make a fun movie. I'd be cool with either live action or animation.

I definitely want to continue this series, and I am crossing my fingers that I can get the rest of these on audiobook.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Doll BonesDoll Bones by Holly Black
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Did you know that the fear of dolls is called Pediophobia? It is. I just learned something new just now about my deep-seated fear of antique dolls. Suffice it to say that I for one find antique dolls very creepy. Apparently, I'm not alone. Holly Black seemed to take pediophobia and run with it. Imagine these kids who have their elaborate role-playing game that involves action figures and dolls, and they employ one of the girl's mom's prized possessions as the Great Queen. She rules over the imaginary lands in their games like a sinister matriarch.

When Zach's father throws away his action figures, Zach is devastated, and he is forced to abandon the games he plays with Poppy and Alice, leaving them both confused and feeling betrayed. Poppy decides that they need a quest, and the quest takes the form of a mission given by the spirit of the doll, a young girl named Eleanor, who comes to Poppy in her dreams. Zach needs and craves an adventure, even if he's not sure he believes completely in this Eleanor. Although the doll does seem to have a creepy life to her. Alice is the peacemaker of the trio, with a very overprotective, controlling grandmother, and she's developing feelings for Zach that go beyond friendship.

This trio of friends go on an adventure to settle the restless spirit of Eleanor, and perhaps in the process, they can mend their broken friendship.

I listened to Doll Bones on audio, and I think this is the ideal format for this book. The narrator makes the most of the creepy elements of this story. He's good with voices and altering his pitch to mimic the voice of tween girls in a way that feels authentic. He also captures the chaotic emotions of children of this age, especially those with troubled home lives like all three kids.

I wouldn't say this was scary enough to cost a woman my age some sleep, but it did give me a shiver or too. It also made me feel nostalgic for the imaginative games of childhood that are now in my past. I didn't have the same close trio of friends to play dolls with, but I did play Barbie dolls on my own for longer than I care to admit, and the power of one's imagination takes those dolls to a place where they are endowed a life one wouldn't expect of carved figures of plastic.

As far as parental guidance, the aspect of these young kids taking off on an adventure in the middle of the night would probably make the average parent's hair stand on its end. There are some other questionable moral choices that would make me caution a parent to have some oversight if their younger child read this book. Nothing too crazy, but certainly worthy of caution.

This was good but not great. I definitely recommend reaching for the audiobook if one's interest is perked.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James

Silence For the DeadSilence For the Dead by Simone St. James

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

After reading Ms. St. James first book, The Haunting of Maddy Clare, I made a note to keep reading her books. I was that impressed. I am quite fond of the early 20th Century period in a fictional setting, and this seems to be a particular area of interest for her as well.  With this book, she focused on the troubled homefront of Post-WWI England, when veterans are coming back from the war damaged, both in body and in mind. Kitty Weekes is desperate for a job, desperate enough to take a job at Portis House, an isolated mental health facility for veterans. She lies about being a nurse, and she's caught in her lie, but the Matron allows her to keep the job anyway, as she's that desperate for another 'nurse'.  Kitty soon realizes just how wrong things are at Portis House, but it's not like she has anywhere else to go.

"Silence for the Dead" is Gothic fiction, and the author does choose a fearsome setting in a haunted mental hospital.  Unfortunately, this book lacked the degree of authentic and effective atmosphere that this story cried out for.  I expected to be really unsettled by this story, considering its setting in an asylum with a troubled history as a family home whose family disappeared under decidedly strange circumstances.  It seems to suggest some very powerful emotions of fear of isolation, abandonment and entrapment.  However, I felt that things just didn't come together very well.  I thought that some unsettling events that occur in the house would be explained or tie more strongly into the story and origin of the haunting, but they weren't in a satisfactory way.  Don't get me wrong. There were some parts that were quite eerie. However, I think that this story could have been a lot more frightening than it was, considering the subject matter.

One of the things I liked most about this novel was the authentic characters, most of whom are veterans who suffer from profound mental illness as a result of the horrors of the war.  It was quite sad how they were viewed by the public and their families as a whole. As cowards in that they were emotionally and mentally affected by the events occurring on the Front. Only a veteran can truly attest to the statement "War is Hell," and one would think that their loved ones would respect that they had survived and came home, even if they were tormented by their experiences.  It was a slap in the face at how some of this men were treated, as if their surviving the war was an affront, as opposed to dying as "heroes".  This aspect of the book spoke strongly to me, and gave me a lot to think about, as we still deal with veterans and how their lives are profoundly impacted by their war experiences. It's a good reminder to me to show sensitivity and to pray for their healing and restoration from their wounds.

This story has a strong romantic element that I did appreciate, although it did seem kind of crammed into the story around the Gothic and paranormal suspense elements.  I really liked Jack and Kitty both. They were strong characters who had both suffered and understood what rejection and isolation was. In Kitty's case, she was very wise beyond her young years, and carried her own set of battle scars.  She actually keeps my interest the most and remains a rootable character throughout this novel. I do have to say that the veterans did grow on me and I hoped for their well-being over the course of the novel.

I wish I liked this book more than I did, quite simply.  For me, it failed to attain the potential the setting and story seems to promise.  However, it was a good book, and I certainly did appreciate Kitty and Jack, and the setting and time period.  For what it's worth, I think this would make a good movie.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Sunday, March 01, 2015

Fairest Volume 2: The Hidden Kingdom by by Bill Willingham, Lauren Beukes, IƱaki Miranda (Illustrations)

Fairest, Vol. 2: The Hidden KingdomFairest, Vol. 2: The Hidden Kingdom by Bill Willingham

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Once again, Bill Willingham and company have created a fresh spin on a fairy tale. And he takes Rapunzel to a very adult and at times disturbing journey to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Rapunzel has been looking for her children for many, many years.  Even though she was forced to forget them, she never really does.  That was a poignant note in this story.  An interesting touch was that Rapunzel's hair grows continually, and she experiences very rapid growth spurts of her hair under strong emotion.  You can guess how that plays into the story! Her companion is one of the Crow brothers, who is also her hairdresser.  Her time in Japan opens the doorway to a story full of Japan's very imaginative, and in some ways very frightful folklore. 

If you're like me and Japanese horror movies scare the you know what out of you, you might find this volume therapeutic.  There is an interesting twist on the drowned maiden in the well.  And I will never look at hairballs the same way again. 

There are some dark elements in this one, probably the most out of all the Fables/Fairest volumes I've read, so reader beware.  Having said that, I loved it just as much as the other ones. Rapunzel is both sympathetic and at times, really kind of scary.  I've never thought much about her, so this volume definitely has me seeing her in a different light.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars

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Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde

Cloaked in RedCloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Quite honestly, I liked the idea of this collection more than I liked the stories. I did appreciate the humor and the fact that Velde did address the issues she'd always had with the Little Red Ridinghood story in its varied incarnations.  I actually agree with her on many points. However, I think a few of the stories took a bit too much of a left turn.  One even goes into a direction that makes the Woodsman into a foil who complicates the storylines of several other fairy tale protagonists. Clever touch, but I was annoyed with the man, honestly.  I really liked the story from the viewpoint of Red's grandmother who makes friends with the wolf in an intriguing way. I have a soft spot for wolves, so I rather liked that the wolf wasn't necessarily the villain in most of the stories. The last story was a fun touch about Red's cloak being sentient.  Overall, Red doesn't come off in a very flattering way. But I think that's kind of the point of things.  Clearly Velde doesn't think the traditional fairy tale treats Red as the smartest or most interesting character anyway.

The narrator really kicks this up a notch.  She makes the story fun with her different voices and intonations.   I felt like she had fun reading this book.  That's always a good thing.

Overall, this was a fun audiobook, but it isn't nearly my favorite when it comes to fairy tale retellings.  However, if you are a fairy tale freak like me, you'd probably want to check it out.

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The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow PlaceThe Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. It was delightful, from beginning to end.  I was searching for how to classify it, and in the afterward, Ms. Berry mentioned the term, British Farce. And that's what this is.  I am all for Girl Power, and this book is very much about girl power and the bond between girls/women.  Not only is this a sisterhood bonding story, it's also a bit like Oceans Eleven, one of those caper-type stories where you have a disparate group of individuals who are thrown together under a common bond.  I'd call these girls the Scandalous Seven.  You have Dear Roberta, Dull Martha, Pocked Louise, Dour Elinor, Stout Alice, Disgraceful Mary Jane and their de facto leader, Smooth Kitty.  Each girl brings a different characteristic to the book, and I loved each and every one of them. I just wanted to give them all a hug (even Elinor, whose obsession was death was a little bit disturbing at times).

Such a dark subject, a double murder at a quiet ladies school. However, Berry handles it with a deft touch. Instead of spending too much time dwelling on the horror of the girls' predicament, the reader is focused on how these girls react to it and take measures to prevent their sisterhood from ending prematurely.  I like the way they work together, and despite the typical occasional squabbles among young women, they look out for each other and validate each other.

I loved the humor. It was mostly subtle, but sometimes laugh out loud. It reminds me very much of British comedy with some British mystery thrown in. 

There is a nice dose of romance, because, well they are young women, and romance is often a factor. However, the youngest, Pocked Louise, could give a fig for boys. She's our resident sleuth, and a very smart sleuth she is and she thinks boys are foul.  The other ladies, all seem to find guys who prick their fancy. Even Smooth Kitty, who thinks she's got everything all figured out. It thought it was so funny how big a flirt Disgraceful Mary Jane was, and a very unrepentant one at that!

I have been quite stingy with five star ratings lately, but I can't talk myself out of giving one for this book. I am very thankful to Olga Godim for bringing "The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place" to my attention. It was scandalously good!

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Injustice: Gods Among Us, Vol. 1 by Tom Taylor, Jheremy Raapack (Illustrations), Various (Illustrations)

Injustice: Gods Among Us, Vol. 1Injustice: Gods Among Us, Vol. 1 by Tom    Taylor

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

What could drive Superman to commit the ultimate act--murder?

Injustice deals in a very frank manner with that question.  It was quite terrifying to see Superman go over the edge. He doesn't go to the extreme of Plutonian in Irredeemable, Vol. 1, but he goes to dark places that it's uncomfortable to see, and his actions divide the Justice League as a result.  I have to say that Wonder Woman was a bit scary in this book.  Out of all of the characters, I think that Batman stays true to form.

I haven't played the game, so I can't say how closely the storyline mirrors the videogame. I wonder if they didn't beef up the backstory based on a basic premise in the videogame.  It makes for a good graphic novel, but don't look for the characters to stay as true to their typical ethoses in the canon storyline. That's not what we get here.

I liked the cameo by Harley Quinn, although I still don't get why she's so in love with the Joker.  Her teasing of Green Arrow was pretty funny, I must say.

If you can get this from your library, it's worth a read.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Alice's Adventure in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This is a hard book to rate. Honestly, most of it is quite silly. I have seen movie versions and adaptations and I knew that it was pretty bizarre. But in the reading, it's a bit...well, absurd. If that is one what is expecting, it's a pretty good book. I think that one has to have a high tolerance for silly puns. Some of which are a bit obscure for a modern audience, but I think that kids that read it during that era would have appreciated it.

What I liked the most about it, is, well, Alice. She's adorable. She has the clear and genuine logic and outlook of a child, and I like that about her. She's a bit precocious, but not in an obnoxious way. If she not had been, well, I'm sure she would have found Wonderland quite scary and maybe had a nervous breakdown. She approaches this bizarre place of Wonderland from her vantage point and takes everything pretty well (and with a fair amount of acceptance), considering...

I laughed pretty loud at the absurdity and I loved the narrator, Marianne Margulies's impersonations of the characters. The croquet game was fantastically written and the court scene was pretty funny as well. I kept yelling "Off With His Head," along with the Red Queen. I thought the end was a bit abrupt, but I guess it makes sense in context. There are some sad, poignant aspects that hit the right note as well (the way that the story hits on the mourning one feels for the innocence and joy of childhood as an adult).

It's nice to have read this book and to see that many versions of the book in tv/movies do a good job of capturing the essence of the novel. Generally, movies don't do so well, but I think Alice has been treated fairly faithfully throughout the years.

I will probably read some critical essays on the work and see what I pick up about some of the hidden meanings and themes and cultural relevance, since I'm not really sure about that. On surface value, it was fun and silly, and pretty enjoyable. I recommend getting this on audio. The puns and songs were a lot more funny this way.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Grimm Conclusion by Adam Gidwitz

The Grimm Conclusion (A Tale Dark & Grimm, #3) (Audio CD)The Grimm Conclusion (A Tale Dark & Grimm, #3) by Adam Gidwitz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am sad that this series is over, but it ends in such a satisfying way. I do think that this series is required reading for those who like fairy tales and especially clever retellings. Each volume ups the ante on the grim aspect of fairy tales. Each book seems less appropriate for a younger audience. I'm torn on that. Mr. Gidwitz is obviously a teacher, and he understands the young minds he writes for. I mean, he has to in order to teach them. I'm going to trust that he knows what they can handle, but my personal limit would be 12 or older for these books. There is way too much dark violence and subject matter for kiddos younger than twelve, to my thinking. Also, the cruelty of adults against children in this book is highly disturbing.

I also think this is the saddest out of the series. Wow, the things that our young protagonists are faced with really tore at my heart. And how the cruelty and neglect they experienced warped something inside of them. Gidwitz deals with the psychology of abused/neglected children in a poignant way without getting too soapboxy.

There are some great life lessons here. Family, loyalty, honor, integrity, kindness, and making moral decisions. These kids have to raise themselves and that leads to some issues when they are faced with adult moral decisions. Along the way they make mistakes and have to learn from them and 'face the music.'

This book breaks the 4th wall in a way that the other ones in the series did not. At first, I really didn't like that about the book, but then I saw how integral it was to the story. It was also good because Gidwitz doesn't follow the predictable pattern I expected.

Johnny Heller truly is an awesome narrator. If he didn't win an award for narrating this series, then he was cheated. He deserves it. He was all in, and you would have to wonder how he didn't get emotionally affected by this book as he read. Not just in horror or sadness, but in hilarity, because this book involves all those emotions.

I am biased. I love fairy tales a lot. Yet, I think that increases my standards for fairy tale retellings. Gidwitz is a writer who clearly loves fairy tales just as much as I do, if not more. He respects the genre, and it clearly is a huge creative influence on him in crafting these marvelous books that add very much to the cultural relevance of fairy tales.

If you have not checked these out and you like fairy tales, what are you waiting for?

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Event by David Lynn Golemon

Event (Event Group Adventure, #1)Event by David Lynn Golemon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a very good book, although the start was a little rocky. I think that this is an ambitious story, but the reward was sweet. I haven't read that many Alien Invasion novels, because I don't find them that interesting. However, Golemon took the events of Roswell and made it relevant and also far from cheesy. In fact, he took it in an imaginative direction.

When people think of UFO and alien sitings, the 'little green men' always come up. Also, there seems to be a dichotomy when people speak of aliens, either the kind, friendly little green men or the evil aliens who want to probe and dissect humans, and have a sinister purpose. I really liked how Golemon speaks to this alien folklore in a very cool way. He also threw in the type of aliens that scare me like crazy, you know like the Ridley Scott/James Cameron xenomorphs, animalistic creatures of mass destruction with no pity and no morality, but only a hunger and a desire to propagate? The thought of those creatures of earth is massively scary. So it was a neat mix of what we consider aliens in popular culture.

For the conspiracy theorists, there's a nice bit of government alien coverup conspiracy thrown in. The Event Group is integral to that, but also larger and more expansive. This was a really neat idea that I feel the author can take into many directions. I like the tidbits of other famous history elements that were thrown in, like finding the body of a certain 4th century King of Britain (you know who!).

As I read this, I wondered how the author could take such a broad concept and cover it in the relative short 470 odd pages in a satisfactory manner. He does. The ending was quite epic! I hate that so many people died so horribly in this book. I guess that's how it would pay out if there was an invasion of such brutal aliens, but I still didn't like it. Quite a few wince-worthy moments, but also plenty of cheering as the good guy stick it to the next alien monsters of devastation.

Other than the slow start, my major criticism was characterization. I felt that some the characters weren't as well-developed as I would have liked. I sure did like Senator Lee though. What a character! I would love to meet that guy. I pictured an elderly Gregory Peck as Lee. I liked his assistant, Alice Hamilton. Their relationship obviously was a lifelong bond, and it showed. I also liked Gus, the gold prospector who plays a pivotal role. I did like Jack Collins, but he did seem a bit thin at times. He could have used more fleshing out, I thought. Mainly portrayed as a man of action and deep principle. I would just like more of his inner life. I think that is the brooder/analytical thinker in me. I like to dive deep into characters and explore their inner lives as much as I enjoy action moments. I will look forward to following him in later books, regardless. Sarah certainly could have used more development. She seemed like a throwaway character to a big degree. I know with this ambitious story, it's hard to keep up with all the characters, but I feel that the author should pick the most pivotal characters and develop them to the best degree possible.

I'm glad that this was selected as the group read this month. It was a fun, involving read, and while aliens are not a favorite theme or subject for me, Goleman perked my interest and took me on a varied emotional reading journey with this book.

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